Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Join the Dots

Quite surprised we haven't touched upon this before.
So you've plotted through to that high emotion denouement, with your act reversals in place, and then you've listed all the stuff that needs to happen in any scene and you've done all your research.
The next step is a biggie, and is, I would contend, at the root of Stephen King's assertion that writers are born and not made.
How do you tie all those scene elements together, neatly, emotively, consicely, without waste or distraction, without resorting to flat exposition or meaningless actions?

Larry David demonstrates this dot joining skill at its best! In any episode of Curb Your Enthusiasm (I'm onto season seven now), Larry effortlessly connects seemingly disparate plot devices to create a powerful climax. Half the fun is trying to second-guess him - trying to figure out how that school production of Grease and the exterminator and the deaf woman and her dog are going to be finally reconciled. Furthermore, the viewer/reader/player shouldn't be able to second-guess the outcome: it should surprise her, whilst retaining every ounce of integrity.

And this is where plots can come undone. I remember vividly sitting with my plot points and research, ready to write up the second act reversal to TCCP, only to discover that my protag would not budge as I required. There's your Is plot character? debate resolved. The two things are symbiotic.

Here's my first pass solution to the act one reversal for M4.
I've largely replaced cut-scenes with cinematics now. To do that, I first had to devise a distinction between the two, as I couldn't get anywhere on the interweb. I've defined a cinematic as a passive scene, probably letterboxed, which retains the first-person pov - a character standing on that bridge in the game world, for example. A cut-scene will leave that first-person game world and utilise cinematographic devices, perhaps moving in and out of pov shots and omniscient shots, cutting/fading between shots, panning or dollying, or zooming into XCUs.
I've given myself (approximately) a one page tolerance for my cut-scenes. (One page in FD equates to one minute of dialogue.)

To keep things tight, I went in very late, removing leading questions and cutting straight to the answers, and then using those answers to lead to the next answer. So Eddie doesn't ask 'Where has everyone gone?'; instead, Keelin and Rudo explain where everyone has gone without prompts.
I had to turn the scene on a pinhead, and end the scene with the player's new goal. And, all the while, I've tried to develop the characters and their relationships, whilst keeping emotions at the front.
Finally, regular readers will spot the prophetic misdirection (of which I am so enamoured): Keelin looks ahead to the time she will leave the town and be reunited with her father.
For those who played the CE act of M3 (which is set after the events of M4), you'll know this never occurs...

There's a couple of 'forced' bits where I haven't joined the dots too well: in particular 'Then come with me...' needs strengthening, and 'Death does odd things...' is possibly unnecessary, but otherwise I'm pretty pretty pretty good with it.

EDDIE and KEELIN sit facing one another on a blanket. Beside KEELIN, RUDO is propped up against the hamper. Bowls and jars and cutlery are spread over the blanket, and plates are dressed with salads and flatbreads, jams and roasted game.

(softly spoken)
I am sorry Edwina: if Tom has found his way to the western peninsula, he will be dead.

There’s a monster see? An ouphe. It came many years ago, searching for a soul. It killed everyone.

But clever old Rudo devised traps and secret doors to keep us safe, before he himself was slain.

Tom isn’t dead, I know it; and I will find him, with or without your help.

It is too dangerous.

Then come with me Keelin. Once we have found Tom, we can leave together.

It’s not a bad scheme Keel - my devices are brilliant and all, but they won’t hold forever. There’s nothing here for us anymore.

Escape is impossible without the eye of Brites.

It’s somewhere in the town... but nobody knows where. Death does odd things to one’s memories.

I will find it, and I will find Tom, and we can leave together.

Can we really go Rudy? Oh, is it possible? Perhaps my father is still alive, waiting for me outside?

Sure! You go pack Keel - quick as you like. Me and Edwina will find that eye.

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